Part 2—A very strange pattern of culture: In our view, there were two remarkable aspects to Maureen Dowd’s recent column.
One is the fact that the column was written at all.
Hillary Clinton had been on TV; the predictable screeching had started. Still, it’s remarkable that Dowd’s column could have started in the manner shown below.
Dowd was discussing the nation’s previous secretary of state. On the front page of the New York Times Sunday Review, her analysis started like this:
DOWD (6/15/14): No one wrote about blondes like Raymond Chandler.Inanely, “Elsa” is the main character from Frozen, last year’s animated Disney film.
''There is the small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters and the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,'' he wrote in ''The Long Goodbye.'' ''There is the blonde who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm and is always very, very tired when you take her home.''
There's the pale, anemic, languid blonde with the soft voice. ''You can't lay a finger on her,'' Chandler notes, ''because in the first place you don't want to and in the second place she is reading 'The Waste Land' or Dante in the original.'' And when the New York Philharmonic is playing Hindemith, he writes dryly, ''she can tell you which one of the six bass viols came in a quarter of a beat too late. I hear Toscanini can also. That makes two of them.''
None of his descriptions, however, conjures the two regal blondes transfixing America at the moment: Hillary and Elsa.
We’ll grant you—this latest Disney offering was extremely good. According to Wikipedia, “a sing-along issue was released in 2,057 theaters in the United States. This version featured on-screen lyrics, and viewers were invited to follow the bouncing snowflake and sing along with the songs from the film.”
That would have appealed to Dowd. Beyond that, “Frozen received widespread critical acclaim,” Wikipedia reports, “with several critics comparing the film favorably to the films of the Disney Renaissance, particularly The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King.”
For these reasons, it was only natural that Dowd would mention the latest Disney film as she shared her thoughts about the former secretary of state. As it turns out, Hillary Clinton reminds Dowd of Elsa, the cartoon princess with whom she may have sung along.
That linkage was only natural, if perhaps a bit embarrassing. What was truly remarkable was the way Dowd shared that tabloid taxonomy of blondes right at the start of her column.
What kind of blonde is Hillary Clinton? The Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times pundit was thinking extremely hard.
Is the former senator from the state of New York the kind of “small cute blonde who cheeps and twitters?” Is she “the big statuesque blonde who straight-arms you with an ice-blue glare,” or perhaps the kind of blonde “who gives you the up-from-under look and smells lovely and shimmers and hangs on your arm?”
It’s astounding to think that a major New York Times columnist would start a column this way—a column about a former secretary of state. Even more amazing was the widespread silence which greeted this rank performance.
It isn’t like Dowd has never been challenged for this type of thing. As we noted yesterday, public editor Clark Hoyt showed his colleagues how to do it in June 2008.
In a punishing column which was nonetheless too kind, Hoyt scalded Dowd for “assailing Clinton in gender-heavy terms in column after column” all through the 2008 Democratic campaign. Referring to a New York Times news report about the reporting and punditry surrounding Candidate Clinton’s campaign, he said this about Dowd’s performance:
“Dowd's columns about Clinton's campaign were so loaded with language painting her as a 50-foot woman with a suffocating embrace, a conniving film noir dame and a victim dependent on her husband that they could easily have been listed in that Times article on sexism.”
Hoyt even dropped the S-bomb as he described Dowd’s work this day. This should have helped his slower colleagues understand the theory of what had been wrong with Dowd’s unrelenting performance.
Needless to say, there was nothing new about Dowd’s performance with respect to Candidate Clinton in 2008. For more than a decade, she had assailed a long string of major Democrats in similar “gender-heavy” ways:
Relentlessly, Candidate Edwards had been assailed as “The Breck Girl” in that same 2008 campaign. In two columns, Candidate Obama had been “the diffident debutante.”
All the way back in Campaign 2000, Candidate Gore was said to “so feminized, he’s practically lactating.” Two days before the November 2000 election, Dowd opened her column with an image of Gore before a mirror, singing “I Feel Pretty” as she contemplated his bald spot.
That remarkable column had also appeared in the Sunday New York Times.
Needless to say, Dowd had savaged spouses and daughters of major Dems in similar ways. In January 2004, her columns about Howard Dean’s wife had been especially startling. This was a taste of the derision Dowd heaped on Judith Steinberg Dean, a practicing physician who failed to please the pundit:
DOWD (1/15/04): The first hard evidence most people had that Howard Dean was actually married came with a startling picture of his wife on the front page of Tuesday's Times, accompanying a Jodi Wilgoren profile.That “startling picture” hadn’t pleased Dowd. She also complained about “the green shag carpeting” she somehow pictured in the Deans’ Vermont home.
In worn jeans and old sneakers, the shy and retiring Dr. Judith Steinberg Dean looked like a crunchy Vermont hippie, blithely uncoiffed, unadorned, unstyled and unconcerned about not being at her husband's side—the anti-Laura. You could easily imagine the din of Rush Limbaugh and Co. demonizing her as a counterculture fem-lib role model for the blue states.
“Even by the transcendentally wacky standard for political unions set by Bill and Hillary Clinton, the Deans have an unusual relationship,” Dowd explained this day, complaining that Steinberg was treating her patients in Vermont instead of campaigning in Iowa.
“Physician, heal thy spouse,” Dowd said as she closed her column. Ten days later, Dowd critiqued Dr. Steinberg’s “unfamiliar lipstick and blush” and said she “seemed as fragile as Laura in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’”
“It's impossible to know how her style of being a style agnostic would wear during a campaign,” the prize-winning columnist thoughtfully judged.
Dowd had been morally and intellectually ill for years by the time Hoyt’s column finally appeared. Her illness routinely took the form of the “gender-heavy” assaults which Hoyt had finally called sexist.
To Dowd, Hillary Clinton is just a tabloid blonde. That’s where DowdWorld starts and ends. In the end, that’s all there is for this lost soul.
That’s why the silence which greeted Dowd’s recent column was much more remarkable than the sad column itself.
We live at a time when corporate pseudo-liberal news orgs are forming on the pseudo-left. At Salon and on MSNBC, the wailing and screeching about racism and misogyny are pretty much endless.
The values are good; the intelligence level of the critiques will often be rather anemic. That said, these emerging news orgs love to complain about this type of offence.
This time, the silence was loud.
Go ahead—Google “Dowd, Clinton and Frozen.” Clark Hoyt is now head of the Gridiron Club. No one has followed his lead.
Dowd’s very strange piece about tabloid blondes was met with silence all through the press. This includes the emerging pseudo-left press, which is normally vigilant about offenses like this.
According to Nexis, Dowd’s critique of Clinton as a tabloid blonde wasn’t mentioned on MSNBC. At Salon, Katie McDonough took a pass at Dowd’s column, though we’d say it was rather inept.
Joan Walsh, Salon’s loudest reinvented voice, had nothing to say about Dowd at all. To us, this suggested the need for anthropology lessons.
Out back, the banging and hammering can be heard as workers construct an “Anthropologists’ lodge” on our sprawling campus. When the construction is done, we’re going to hire teams of scholars, adding them to our staff.
We’ll ask them to examine the ways of the mainstream press. This will include the ways of our very loud pseudo-liberal press, which gives columns like this latest piece by Dowd a very peculiar pass.
What cultural folkways explain the very loud silence of Walsh last week? Walsh, who is extremely loud and always irate, will also always defer to garbage-can work of this type from Dowd, who is visibly ill.
What explains these peculiar “patterns of culture?” Ruth Benedict is no longer here to help us examine such riddles, but we’re going to hire the best anthropologists we possibly can.
Tomorrow, as construction continues, we’ll turn to another strange recent event. This strange event involved Diane Sawyer, and another large dollop of silence.
Tomorrow: Diane Sawyer, upset by the money
Before Elsa, there was Marilyn: During the years of her visible illness, Dowd has classified Clinton as a tabloid blonde before.
This month, Dowd wrote a column about two blondes—Hillary Clinton and a cartoon princess. In August 1999, she selected Marilyn Monroe as her comparison blonde.
In a column called “Blonde on Blonde,” Dowd created tortured comparisons between Clinton and Monroe. Needless to say, “Both paired off in rocky romances with sex-addled young Presidents.”
Dowd has been disturbed for years, in highly visible fashion. Routinely, her illness takes the form of the gender-trashing Hoyt finally described as sexist.
The rest of the press corps averts its gaze from this relentless behavior. In our view, it’s a very strange “pattern of culture.”